ML INTERNATIONAL NEWSLETTER (JANUARY-FEBRUARY, 2006)
Four Phases of the Democratic Movement in Nepal
The present-day Nepalese democratic movement has perhaps entered its fourth phase now. The first ended with its partial victory in 1990, with the accommodation of the “democrats” in the power structure, which eventually frustrated the movement’s vigour, alienating its committed vanguards and grassroots. It was also at that moment that the Nepalese “long march” started to re-base the people’s movement among the people – peasantry, working class and other downtrodden sections – and look for the occasion to rise again as a contra-power rather than being glued to the old power structure, becoming its agency for manipulating ‘demos’ to preserve the ‘cracy’. This second phase saw mobilisation and dispersal of the movement beyond a few urban centres. The cry for democracy – for “self-determination” – reached hitherto untouched zones of the society. It is not strange that Mao’s model of strategy-formulation – of re-building the democratic movement from below in peasant societies like those in Nepal formed the guidelines for the revolutionaries there. This phase ended with the announcement of the ‘people’s war’ beaconing a new phase, of the rise of dual power.
The history of the third phase is well accounted in two recent collections – of the reports by Li Onesto (1), and of Baburam Bhattarai’s writings (2). They provide graphic descriptions of the fast-changing Nepalese polity embedded in the ever-dynamic post-cold war international political economy. Bhattarai’s works, especially, reflect the Maoist revolutionaries’ ability to dialectically cope up with the unfolding of the multivariate reality that always reveals itself in a piecemeal manner, never in totality. A historicist may find the Maoist strategies and tactics as frequently shifting. This is true for most of the political analysts – journalistic or serious. They are, however, ignorant of the pains of a revolutionary movement that bases itself on a continuous critique of international capitalism, its subordinate political economic structures and their diverse manifestations in deeds rather than simply in words. The movement itself is the epitome of this multi-level critique.
The Maoist’s ability to establish and flourish as the counter-power against the local state formation nurtured by global imperialism has perhaps heralded the fourth phase in the new democratic transformation in Nepal. The consistency and strength of the Nepalese revolutionaries, have rendered a fatal blow to the corporatist-monarchist-landlordist alliance with petty-bourgeois parliamentarism. In a way, this alliance was sponsored and nourished by imperialists to gain a decisive control over the region. India’s decision not to renew the 1978 treaties on trade and transit rights in 1989, leading to a major strangulation of the Nepalese economy, enforced this ‘nationalist’ compromise in 1990. It allowed the imperialists to check the arbitrariness of absolutism and radicalisation of the democratic movement, and gear up the local political economic arrangements in their own favour. However, the energy that was released in this process could not be fully confined in this official arrangement. On the contrary, as mentioned earlier, it allowed the radicals a freehand to reorient the democracy movement towards the oppressed masses independent of wavering petty bourgeois democrats, afraid of any drastic structural transformation. A decade long success of this grassroots movement today seems to have reoriented the aspirations of the Nepalese petty-bourgeoisie too forcing the “democratic” parties to form an alliance with the revolutionaries against “the autocratic monarchy”. The 12-point agreement between the Maoists and seven parliamentary parties, along with the unilateral ceasefire by the revolutionaries, perhaps, marks the beginning of the new, fourth phase in the Nepalese democratic struggle, in the Nepalese struggle for self-determination.
The 12-Point Agreement and The Success of People’s War
The text of the agreement shows the willingness of the democrats – both parliamentarian and revolutionary – to rethink their respective strategy to save the coordination achieved so far. Although it is hard to prognosticate all the implications of this agreement, the contradictory aspirations are clearly reflected in the text. The unwillingness of the moderates to go beyond constitutional monarchy is reflected in the criticism of “autocratic monarchy”, instead of monarchy itself. On the other hand, the agreement talks about absolute democracy, too. Only time will determine where this Cartesian unification of spirits of ‘democracy’ will lead. However, the major breakthroughs are the refiguring of the issue of “constituent assembly” on the agenda for the ‘unified’ people’s movement, with that of sweeping away the ‘royalty’ of the Nepalese armed forces (however, the latter is not clearly spelt out) (3). Independent statements from the revolutionary leaders indicate that they are willing to rethink their stand on “constitutional monarchy”, if a constituent assembly is formed.
The post-agreement political scenario may perhaps seem quite unclear, but it will be wrong to make a mechanical interpretation of it. Some “radical” outsiders want to think that the Maoists are using the agreement simply as a tactic, as such compromises go against the spirit of revolution. However, one must realise the truth of Mao’s pronouncement that the complete victory of revolution will take hundreds of years, and a revolutionary force needs to be prepared for all eventualities in “the process of continuous revolution and counter-revolution”, and it cannot rely on formulas. The Nepalese revolutionaries’ understanding on “relationship between the Party, Army, State and the People” is significantly based on the basic idea of “the rights of self-determination of the masses” (4). Throughout the history of people’s war, they have built on coordinating with various ‘autonomous’ movements even if they have not frequently been conscious of it. There have been occasions where they have faltered, but have readily rechecked themselves. Hence, identifying only the militarist aspect of people’s war in Nepal is reducing its history, experience and logic to nought, to mere formulas derived from “teachings” and “preaching”, themselves generalisations of past experiences. It amounts to making people’s war and sacrifices goals in themselves, against their function to unleash the people’s “creativity and energy, making them the new rulers with more responsibilities” (5).
The documents of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) along with Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai’s remarks on the situation in both their statements and interviews reveal their distinct “pessimism of intellect, optimism of will” regarding the Nepalese situation. Bhattarai in his recent interview clearly stated the constraints in which the Maoists are operating:
“We are not attempting a final military victory right now, but are working for a negotiated political settlement either directly for a democratic republic or for the election to a constituent assembly. That is basically for two reasons. First, given the vacillation of a large section of the urban and rural middle classes toward revolutionary change, we find it prudent to go through the substage of a democratic republic. Second, due to the sensitive geopolitical setting of the country sandwiched between the two huge states of India and China, and both hostile to a revolutionary change we feel constrained to settle for a compromise solution acceptable to all.”(6)
The ability of the Nepalese revolutionaries to transcend any metaphysical idealisation of particular practice distinguishes them from other revolutionary movements and insurgency, and brings them closer to the temperament of Mao and his comrades, despite the vast difference in the national and international scenario in which they are operating. Whatever be the future results, which are not dependent on the Nepalese revolutionaries but, as noted by Bhattarai, on the amalgam of international and national factors, they have created a crisis of legitimation for the monarchy, alienated its middle class support-base gathered during its alliance with parliamentary forces, and brought the exploited and oppressed labouring classes to the centre-stage. It is clear that any future political arrangement will have to deal with the alternative participatory institutions and popular aspirations that they have helped in generating during the decade of people’s war.
Global Imperialism and Democracy in Nepal
The international interventionist forces are afraid of the evolving pattern out of the present fluidity in the Nepalese situation. India, especially, is deeply worried. It came to its senses immediately after its ambitious and phoney embargo in the aftermath of the “February coup”, after having been chastised by its own corporatist interests in Nepal. Although it says it has still not restarted supplying arms to Nepal, it admits of providing military training to the Nepalese army. In fact, it is desperately using all tactics to keep the monarchy in the scene. Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran during his visit to Nepal explicitly stated on December 13 that the “constitutional forces [monarchy and political parties] should be working together… This is our view” (7).
Recently, China has been supplying arms to the Nepalese monarchy. One may suspect that there might be evolving an understanding between India and China, in this regard, to complement each other. Since the former is constrained by the domestic left forces who are against re-supplying arms to Nepal, however allowing it to train the RNA personnel, China can take over the complementary role. Both countries are not comfortable with the elimination of the institution of monarchy, and, as Shyam Saran puts, “to the extent that our objectives are the same, it is better for us to work together” (8).
Other imperialist interests – the UK and US are largely involved through India. On the other hand, the EU’s desire to become an independent pole of international relations (despite its militarist irresolution) motivated it to applaud the revolutionaries’ unilateral ceasefire and the 12-point agreement, and to call upon Gyanendra to reciprocate the ceasefire.
In this context of consensus and division among the imperialist forces globally, the democratic tasks in Nepal become furthermore complicated. This context proves decisive at least with regard to the mobilisation of the wavering democrats. The extent of the success of the democratic movement depends on the counter-balancing of this imperialist opinion and interventionism by the internal cohesion among working classes, semi-proletarians and petty bourgeoisie. This cohesion seems to have evolved to some extent, but it needs to be sustained and promoted consistently. Another factor that can help in disarming the imperialist support to monarchy is the anti-imperialist mobilisation in the interventionist countries, especially India.
(1) Li Onesto, Dispatches from the People’s War in Nepal, Pluto Press, 2005
(2) Baburam Bhattarai, Monarchy Vs. Democracy: The Epic Fight in Nepal, Samkaleen Teesari Duniya, New Delhi, 2005
(3) Parties, Maoists announce 12-pt agreement, Kathmandu Post, November 22 2005
(6) Maoists eye multiparty democracy, Interview with Baburam Bhattarai, Washington Times, July 30 2005
(7) Media Interaction by Foreign Secretary Mr. Shyam Saran in Kathmandu, Nepal on December 13 2005, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India